LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – The competitive luge season draws to a close Monday and Tuesday, March 12-13, in Lake Placid, when USA Luge hosts the 2012 Norton National Championships and Seeding Races at the Olympic Sports Complex.

A total of five recent Olympians will headline the cast set to tackle one of the sport’s most technically demanding courses.

Erin Hamlin and Christian Niccum, 2006 and 2010 Olympians, will be joined by Vancouver Olympic team members Julia Clukey and Chris Mazdzer, along with 2006 Torino team member Preston Griffall.

The racing format will present three events in two days. There will be separate Norton seeding events daily, each consisting of two heats, in men’s and women’s singles. Results of the seeding races will be incorporated into the selection process by the USA Luge coaching staff when they name the national team for the 2012 fall campaign.

The total of the four runs over both days will determine the 2012 Norton National Champions in those disciplines. The doubles athletes will also have two seeding events, but only the second race will act as the national championship race. The four-run national championship format in singles is designed to mimic the Olympic race protocol. The two-run doubles national championship format is also consistent with the discipline’s Olympic competition.

Hamlin, of Remsen, N.Y., winner of the 2009 World Championship on the same Lake Placid track, is eyeing her fifth straight Norton title against a number of challengers. She finished sixth in the 2011-2012 Overall World Cup standings.

Clukey, of Augusta, Maine, a Vancouver Olympic teammate of Hamlin’s, returns to competition after missing the entire season. Clukey underwent surgery last spring at D.I.S.C. Sport and Spine Center in California for Chiari Syndrome, the same ailment that afflicted the PGA Tour’s J.B. Holmes. Like Holmes, Clukey has returned to training and competition.

Emily Sweeney, of Suffield, Conn., will be another threat. Sweeney dominated last weekend’s junior nationals in Park City, Utah, and secured her third career Norton Junior National Championship.

Summer Britcher, of Glen Rock, Pa., will also have a say in the outcome. Britcher was a member of the USA Luge gold medal effort in the team relay at the Youth Olympic Games in January. She also captured the Youth A World Cup overall championship in 2010-2011 before advancing to the junior ranks this year. Britcher is no stranger to the National Championship podium, having won a bronze in last year’s Championships as a 16 year old.

Mazdzer, of Saranac Lake, N.Y., will seek his third consecutive national title. But the 2010 Olympian will have no training runs prior to the races. Mazdzer is spending this week taking test runs on the new 2014 Olympic track in Sochi, Russia. He is slated to return on Sunday and will hit the ice Monday and Tuesday.

Robbie Huerbin, of Pittsburgh, Pa., was runner-up a year ago after making a valiant effort to overturn Mazdzer in the event’s final heat.

Taylor Morris, of South Jordan, Utah and Trent Matheson, of Bountiful, Utah, are also expected to contend for the podium.

Huerbin, Morris and Matheson had World Cup starts this year, but much of their on-ice work was done in Lake Placid.

Many eyes will be on up-and-comer Tucker West, of Ridgefield, Conn. The 16 year old was another member of the Youth Olympic Games gold medal foursome, and placed second in last week’s Norton Junior National Championships. Quick out of the gate, West got the attention of his teammates after winning the National Guard USA Luge Start Championship last October.

Four doubles teams will shoot down Mount Van Hoevenberg in search for a gold medal.
National Guard athletes Matt Mortensen, of Huntington Station, N.Y., and Griffall, of Salt Lake City, Utah, return to the Norton nationals with repeat on their minds. They concluded the World Cup season ninth ranked, with best race results of fifth and sixth places against the world’s best.

Niccum, from Woodinville, Wash. and Jayson Terdiman, of Berwick, Pa., did not race a year ago due to Niccum’s back issues, which were addressed with surgery at D.I.S.C. in the spring.

After the 34 year old Niccum’s rehab, the duo finished seventh in the recent World Cup standings.

Junior standouts Jake Hyrns, of Muskegon, Mich. and Andrew Sherk, of Fort Washington, Pa., make their return from a January injury that sent both to the sidelines. Hyrns injured his left wrist, while Sherk incurred a mild concussion in a training crash in Koenigssee, Germany. They captured the 2010-2011 Junior World Cup overall championship, and opened the 2011-2012 season with two junior tour victories and a bronze medal prior to the mishap.

Shane Hook, of Grapevine, Texas and Zac Clark, of Salt Lake City, Utah enter the Norton event after competing in the season’s first two World Cups and then spending the remainder of the winter training in Lake Placid.

The public is invited to attend the race action. Admission fees are $8 for adults, and $6 for juniors and seniors.

The Norton National Championship medal ceremony, open free of charge to everyone, takes place Tuesday afternoon at 1:00 in Mid’s Park on Main Street in Lake Placid.
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